In a time like ours, when every comic-book company in the world seems to have a movie deal, and everyone from Pixar to Will Smith has spoofed the superhero genre, there is something kind of refreshing about a film like Push. Yes, on the one hand, it is yet another superhero movie, coming to us at a time when there have arguably been far, far too many of these films as it is. But, on the other hand, it is not based on any existing franchises or characters, so the filmmakers have an opportunity to surprise us by creating a new story entirely from scratch—a new story that will not be hindered by any perceived need to cater to an existing fanbase.
What is more, Push takes its subject matter fairly seriously, or at any rate does not exploit its subject matter for cheap ironic laughs. If anything, the film represents a significant attempt to bring the genre back down to Earth, to make superheroes seem more "realistic." Just as TV shows like Smallville and Heroes have tended to let the superpowers speak for themselves, without getting distracted by campy capes and costumes, so too Push features characters who simply wear business suits or slightly tattered clothes, whatever suits their lifestyle. And just as the Jason Bourne movies gave new life to the international-espionage thriller by using hand-held cameras and taking place in everyday locations rather than posh tourist spots, so too Push achieves a certain kind of naturalism by taking place in the busy streets and back alleys of Hong Kong. At times it has an almost documentary sort of feel.
So there are several compelling reasons to like this film, or to want to like it. But it all falls apart, alas, at the screenplay level. Screenwriter David Bourla—who, according to the Internet Movie Database, has written a few time-travel flicks and directed some of the "thumb" spoofs of classic movies (Frankenthumb, Bat Thumb, The Godthumb)—comes up with some intriguing concepts. But he consistently contradicts his own premises, or fails to follow through on their potential.
An opening voiceover, narrated by 13-year-old clairvoyant Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning), sets things up economically enough. She spells out the different kinds of powers that people can be born with: "movers" can manipulate physical objects without actually touching them, "pushers" can plant false memories and similar ideas into other people's minds, "watchers" such as Cassie herself can see into the future, and so on. She also tells us that a shadowy branch of the American government known only as Division has taken it upon itself to round these people up and perform various experiments on them in the hope of creating a new psychic army. So far, however, Division has had no success, because all their subjects keep dying.
And then, one day, a subject survives, as a "pusher" named Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle) wakes up from her drug-induced stupor and escapes from the Division laboratory. Kira is promptly pursued by Division agent Henry Carver (Djimon Hounsou) and his minions, some of whom have superpowers and some of whom do not; and for some reason she is also pursued by a Chinese gang of "bleeders," people who can scream at frequencies that shatter glass and cause internal organs to explode. But she also gets help from Cassie and Nick Grant (Chris Evans), a "mover" who happens to be an ex-boyfriend of Kira's.